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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Cowboy Poet in Templeton

written September 21, 2005

Templeton is James Fenimore Cooper's literary name for the village of Cooperstown, and I often use it to refer to the place in a story--particularly when I write about its more 'fantastic' aspects.

* * *

A Cowboy Poet in Templeton

Templeton continues to be a queer--in the old-fashioned sense--and revelatory sort of place. I've been meaning to write about a sort of writer's adventure that happened recently. It started in an ordinary enough fashion; my husband called to say that we'd been invited out to dinner by somebody he'd met several times through work. I was a bit tired (three children and their events) and didn't especially want to go. There was a wrinkle; we were to bring not only the children but the dog.

This seemed a little curious.

My husband had mentioned a name, but I didn't pay much attention at the time. Just getting everybody plus dog in the car was enough of a job without that. He also said that our host-to-be was a "cowboy poet" with a book. I didn't pay much attention there, either, as it seems that a lot of people have a book these days. We took the lake road and soon turned into the Busch compound, where all the heirs to beer hops live--at least when they alight for a while in their Templeton houses. Oh, Busch, Hadley, Hager: all that, I realized. This might be interesting. When I asked, Mike said the man's name was Drummond.

All evening long I had to keep revising, revising, revising what was happening.

We took our dogs to a lake with a little stone house and an island. The golden rod and asters were blooming, and water was trickling over a lots of rocky drops and a stone dam. The dogs did some retrieving in the lake. Then we talked to Drummond and his girlfriend Rebecca as we tramped around the edge; he had designed the lake with an engineer, and we chatted and laughed about dogs and the making of the lake and children.

On the way back, one of those wonderful hair-on-end moments happened. We were strewn out along a shadowy path through the woods, and I paused to wait for my daughter. She had stopped at a lamppost--an interesting lantern crowning a shaggy wooden post. She looked very intent; she put her hand out and touched the bark.

Narnia, she said in a low voice and turned to look at me.

I won't forget that instant. Were her eyes shining? Was her face bright with realization? It seems to me so. For a moment the world felt charged with meaning, as if we had slipped into another realm.

At the house, we discovered a pixie bob, and so the younger children played with the cat while our eldest settled in to read a Patrick O'Brian novel. The rest of us wandered into the kitchen, where I noticed a book on the counter, Voice of the Borderlands. That was the cowboy poet's book, I supposed. picked it up and read, "Drum Hadley's work is absolutely fresh as a mountain stream. This book does honor to the ancient art of storytelling."

The wine in my glass gave a jiggle.

Our host was Drum Hadley.

Somehow I hadn't made the jump from "Drummond" and "poet" to "Drum Hadley." There was a quote from Jim Harrison on the jacket. At home, I had just been reading The Woman Lit by Fireflies.

I glanced at the Creeley and Snyder quotes and asked if he knew Ginsberg's editor, Gordon Ball, who used to be a neighbor of mine in Chapel Hill. I had seen him again in Cherry Valley a few years ago. And it turned out that Drum was the person responsible for getting that whole crew of writers to summer in Cherry Valley. I should have guessed! And his ranch in New Mexico-Arizona was neighbor to Jim Harrison's summer home . . .

And that was just the beginning of an evening of many surprises and stories, of much laughter and even a few sudden tears.



Nothing but empty blue sky.
Go gamble with the high rolling earth.
Haul those yearling cattle
To Sonny Shore’s Willcox Livestock Auction.
Pale, rumbling twilight in Old Mexico has fooled you.
Only heat lightning, and you,
And the cattle, and the dry grasses, and no rain.
Droughty cowboys, still looking towards that empty skyline,
Listening to a blown range song,
Cowboy hearts in the dust have always known.
Waiting here for the rain.
Then one day, you feel a new wind come,
Blow cool on the sweat of your sun-baked neck.
Smell that wetness sweeping past the blue mountain ranges,
The lightning cracking. As old Walter Ramsey says,
“Dry times are always thatta way.
When you think what you’ve waited for never will come,
That’s what it takes, to bring you the rain.”

Prayer for the Land

We are gathering these Borderlands together,
Mesas, arroyos, and valleys as far as our eyes can see,
Blue mountain range upon mountain ranger forever,
Turning towards dawnlight, then into the evening West,
As far as pale North sky circling South, to where vaqueros
Come crossing horseback by the broken mesas in Mexico.
There's a low light stretching from the sea of undulating cloud.
Sky streaked down to touch Earth from Heaven.
Who are you who cross through that dusk light before us?
Past old-growth juniper, cedar, and mescal,
Across this great sea of sky, Old Singer,
We hear your voice calling,
"Turn back towards me, come back to Earth."

from Drum Hadley's Voice of the Borderlands (Tucson: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2005)
This long-postponed book is really four in one and runs to almost 400 pages; it has an introduction by Gary Snyder and watercolors by Andrew Rush.

Drum Hadley has lived and worked for forty years along the Mexico-New Mexico-Arizona border, first as a cowboy, then as a rancher. He is the author of three previous books of poetry. He founded the Animas Foundation, which supports sustainable agriculture in harmony with the environment. He is also a founding member of the Malpai Borderlands Group, a community-based ecosystem management project. Hadley lives in the Arizona-New Mexico borderlands. --from


Postscript: I ran into Drum and Rebecca on Main Street last fall, just before he left Cooperstown for the ranch. He wasn't feeling so well but was up for a big hug and some talk. I thought maybe it was time to refurbish the little piece that I'd written about him, slap in some pictures, and remind people about a man's life work in words.

The pictures in this post were found on the web; the images of and from the book I chose to take from, because you can meet more of Drum's poems there. The photograph of a younger Drum on horseback is the work of Teresa Turner. The image below is drawn from Nathan F. Sayre's Working Wilderness: The Malpai Borderlands Group and the Future of the Western Range.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

In the Realm of the Mouse Warrior: Jeff de Boer

Jeff de Boer is a one-man refutation to the sometimes-voiced idea that Canada is boring and staid (Not by me—Canada and I are pals. Vancouver! marvelous Montreal! Quebec City! I am a fan of even you, Ottawa, despite the fact that you infected me with a powerful alien snow virus during your winter festival.)

Jeff had a tinsmith father and made his first suit of metal armor in high school. In art school in Alberta he made his first suit of armor for a mouse. (Did I say that I love obsessed children? I do, having been one—and I am a mother. I have met obsession again in my own children.) Jeff has made many more mice-suits since then. These are not visual puns but elaborate “parade armor” that contains little crooks and corners and sweeps of beauty. No doubt those tiny internal gestures led to his later Exoforms, just as the playfulness led to his ray guns, rocket lamps, and large scale play and flourish.

In an alternate universe, these suits would be and perhaps are treasured by warrior mice—just as his samurai armor for cats would be and perhaps are coveted by those mighty mouse-hunters, the cats. One glance at these cunning, lovely little objects lets such a world spring into active life. Every year the maker is drawn to design a few more. In another realm, it is 2:00 a.m. and small wizardly mice are sending all their most wizardly thoughts to this one, shedding them onto Jeff de Boer. Surely he will make another under their spell, more surprising than any seen before!

His armor for executives transforms this world, reminds us of the small hammered links to the past. It reminds us that ordinary people, too, are engaged in battles and the over-toppling of kingdoms. The scabbard case, the catapult, the ringing metal of the tie stop the clock, break in and throw a bolt into the workings of the daily grind.

I like these things because they are surprising and finely crafted and show a sensibility at play and work. Further, I like them because they show how absolutely wondrous it can be to be a human being—deeply involved, in command of one’s tools, a bit quirky and frolicsome, springing forth with new ideas.


The mouse and cat armor pictures are from As his email doesn’t seem to be working, I have basely pillaged the armor images, in the manner of a large feral cat from another universe. Also in the manner of a delicate, fierce, otherworldly mouse. Do not try to excuse them. They were barbarian warriors and had the need.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday's Sundry

I was just asked for the title of a talk to be given in April. Had nary a topic rattling around in my empty head. I reached into my magic hat. Presto! I pull out a title: "Against Brokenness: Gusto and Strength in Poetry and Fiction." Now I shall have to figure out what it means.

My reading over the weekend was Bilge Karasu's Night. As there seems to be almost nothing written about him in English on the web--and what little I found about the book seemed misleading--I think it will be my next Long Grass book. The translation is by Guneli Gun; I've seen her read her own work, and I've seen her read translations, but that was a long time ago. I also read a children's fantasy set in the States. Since my own two books for 'children' were defiantly American, I feel that I ought to poke into new books that try to set fantasy here. So maybe I'll write something about that one as well.

The glimpses of pictures taken in Italy and France are by poet Jeffrey Beam. They are available as prints, as notecards (the quinces), and as a poster with poem. The pictures are large, some of them almost 42" long, framed. (Crass admission: prices are $25. for the poster, $8.00 for the cards. The unframed and framed photographs range from $250. - $490. - $590. Next show, they will no doubt be more.) Want one, want all? The gallery will ship for free on any order over $50. Contact via Through This Lens Gallery, Durham, North Carolina. Roylee Duvall, gallery owner: isn't that a great name? His email is

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I Interview my Visitors, no. 2

Lori, the woman who ought to be a Bigwit instead of a Witzel, has a passionate curiosity that drives her to see and to say what and how she sees in words, drawings, photographs, and poems. Her primary blog, Chatoyance, flings a seemingly infinite number of tendrils into the aether of the internet, making connections with me and you and somebody with a laptop who is sitting under alien leaves on the other side of the world. Lori Witzel is curious about the way light tosses a glimmering, insubstantial banner into an auto repair shop, about the way decreptitude takes a a plaster wall, about the stuttered reflections on a ribbon of windows in the city.

She is a metaphysical dreamer and eavesdropper. Look: right now she’s leaning over her Starbuck’s coffee, listening to those two women with their heads bent together. She’s sketching the acanthion above the scroll of a lip and jotting down notes in the margin. She plunks down in the dirt, staring at sun through tattered leaf, camera in hand. She’s pausing in an alley to take in the weird poetry of rust on a hand-welded gate and metal rooster. Out of a clear blue Texas sky, cats are dropping onto her legs and back, sniffing behind her ear. A husband is calling from the background. But Lori just laughs and doesn’t turn her head as she steadies the camera: she’s alive, and she’s looking, and she sees.

What’s the most interesting swap you’ve seen on your worldwide swap blog, Gimme Your Stuff? And is your blog, I’m Sorry I Haven’t Posted, really a form of metafiction—since you never (“no, not ever—hardly ever”) post?

Unfortunately, I haven’t been monitoring Gimme as much as I used to when it was just a Teeny Lil’ Blog looking for swap-friends. My role is very peripheral—I’m sort of a departed founding partner of Gimme Your Stuff, and the people who really keep it growing and fun are Rikki and ThomP.

But rather than answer “the most interesting swap,” if I may I’ll share the back-story on how that blog came to be.

My friend Andy Spiegel’s friend Willie Baronet left a comment on Rikki’s blog during a debate about “Milo vs. Nestles,” rather insistently pushing to get Rikki and company to send him some Milo so he could experience Australian chocolate drink mix nirvana. I countered with a much more charming approach to wheedling Milo, and Rikki took pity upon Milo-less me and sent it to me, not Willie. (And while I thoroughly enjoyed “neener neener nearer”-ing Willie, I did share the Milo with him.)

Well, I loooooooooved the Milo. It was what Ovaltine wants to be when it grows up. And, being a woman who doesn’t have much sense of proportion at times, I decided to extend a big-as-Texas thank you to my Aussie blog-friends by getting and shipping them the fixings for a Tex-Mex party. Lots of chips, salsas, a cookbook and various other sundries were packed and sent off, and Rikki and ThomP were completely surprised (and maybe mildly alarmed.)

The Tex-Mex love made an impression, all right—the next thing I knew, I was getting mysterious emails telling me They Had Something Big Afoot as a result of our food-swap. Clever, creative people they are, they built a whole Web infrastructure to make it possible for random strangers to build bridges of fun, trust and cultural exchange.

I helped for a while, but my job and my art (not to mention cats and hubby) made me a poor partner in Gimme. They’re very kind to keep me on the roster of ringleaders.

Yes, I’m Sorry is now metafiction, and that amuses me almost as much as my red plastic Mary Janes. It did start as a trawl for those sorts of posts; I decided it would be funnier if I just stopped. (I wonder how many metafiction writers simply drove down a plot cul de sac and became post-modern by accident?)

In your many photographs on your primary blog, Chatoyance, you demonstrate a passion for the overlooked, the decaying, the peeling, the faded, the rusted, the on-the-edge, the weird-in-the-mundane, the back lot, strange layered elements in nature, skewed visions via reflections, and a look that we might call Accidental Folk Art. Is this a tendency that evolved from a mode less devoted to the world’s broken and entropic self, or was it part of your “eye” and predilection from the start?

A friend once told me, years ago, that I was drawn to “the wreck of beauty.” Although she was referring to an at-that-time-boyfriend’s physiognomy, I suppose I’ve always been drawn to the liminal and transitional. There are qualities in the mystical notion of tikkun, bringing the broken shards of creation back together, that attract me—and there are qualities in old fairy tales, where the shadowy and broken hold the key to wholeness, which I also find compelling. And as far back as I can remember, even as a little girl, I was like this. (Oh, my poor parents!)

You take photographs, sketch, write poems (earlier it was more poems, fewer sketches I note), keep multiple blogs and generally frolic about the world of blogdom, meeting people. (Where did you encounter me, I wonder? Laurelines?) I am quite sure that this is merely the iceberg’s tip. How would Miss Jocelyn Bell describe you, were she a human adolescent, and not a hair-on-end cat about to pounce?

You are so right about finding you through Laurelines—your comments were so darn well-thought and well-wrought I had to see who that Marly person was!

Jossie, if a human teenager, would probably say (were she not texting and squealing about boys with her girlfriends), “Oh, HER. She’s always doing something, and oh my gosh, I never saw anyone so curious about EVERYTHING. I mean, Lori’s nice and all, but she just reads and does stuff and I wish she would just chill and go shopping and pay more attention to me me ME!”

And a cat-tale: Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a part-Siamese who I adopted from a young woman, a science major studying at the University of Texas. This young woman named every kitten in the feral litter she rescued after a woman scientist she felt deserved more attention. Hence, our lovely youngest cat is named after the woman who discovered the pulsar.

Thinking about your pictures, I note that you have a penchant for the overwhelming sky that reduces birds to pinheads, granaries to stubs, us to vanishing point. Is this you and Texas? Is time and space just different there? I lived in Louisiana as a child, and I recall (perhaps wrongly) the utter martyrdom of crossing Texas—the occasional joy of an armadillo football booted into the air, or a bird slashing by, or a tumbleweed catching and freeing itself and rolling on.

I think it is me and Texas—or perhaps me and the American West.

I was born and raised in New York, but when I was very little I ran away to become a cowgirl and live in Texas. Although I turned back at the first street crossing (and oh, did I get the spanking of my life) I finally make it back.

I cannot ride a horse well, but Texas is just “west” enough to feed some open, wandering part of me. Going to college in Northern Arizona left me with a thirst for open sky and land, places where people are scarce enough to make every stranger a harbinger of something mysterious. That’s not quite where I live, but it’s close enough for now.

You’re involved with four blogs (although involvement with I’m Sorry I Haven’t Posted seems rather metaphysical, or perhaps merely whimsical!) What have you found to be the most fun—or the most curious, or the most inspiring—about your links to places like The Art Blog Challenge? (And is it what prompted, in part, a return to sketching?)

I think it was Willie who linked me/invited me to The Art Blog Challenge, but that didn’t spark the return to sketching. Rather, it was a camping trip I took a little over a year ago that set me sketching again.

Friends said they wanted to travel vicariously with me and see things through my eyes. Andy lent me a digital camera, which I was quite nervous about taking (I had no love of photography, and tended to break even the simplest cameras.) Beth (the blog-less and shy) suggested I take a sketchbook, and write/draw what I saw and felt.

Their wildly enthusiastic and supportive response to what I did while traveling set me back on that path, and Laura consolidated my efforts in her gentle, double-dog-dare way by hoping I’d sketch more and more.

Although I’ve found some amazing artists through links to blogs like The Art Blog Challenge, the most gratifying thing has been the one-to-one neighborliness and support I’ve been lucky enough to experience. The generosity of people like yourself, and Dave Bonta, and Laura, and many many others in supporting creative growth amazes me.

In the sketch and notes of “Self-portrait Marathon: Take 2,” you are shown wandering and waiting for “a surprise, a wonder, a befuddlement.” You seem to be a person of much energy, and yet you are frequently very, very still—and, camera in hand, you are “waiting” on the universe to show itself. Explain yourself!

Hah! I wish I could—and goodness knows my husband wishes I could as well!

I guess I’ve been blessed with a large helping of paradox.

One of my favorite approaches to walking along a hiking trail? Stepping just off the trail, just to one side, and waiting. And waiting. Deer come close, mistaking me for a shrub (as long as they can’t sense my human scent.) People walk by and do not see me at all. Lacey little bugs flitter by. And it’s all such a delight for the eye and heart, my mantra through those moments can only be “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

And a heartfelt “thank you” to you, Marly, for asking—it’s good to reflect on all these things, before I pop up and see what I need and want to do next…

* * *

a definition from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia:

In gemology, chatoyancy (or chatoyance) is an optical reflectance effect seen in certain gemstones. Coined from the French, meaning "cat's eye," chatoyancy arises either from the fibrous structure of a material, as in tiger eye quartz, or from fibrous inclusions or cavities within the stone, as in cat's eye chrysoberyl. The effect can be likened to the sheen off a spool of silk; the mobile, wavering reflection always being perpendicular to the direction of the fibres. For a gemstone to show this effect it must be cut en cabochon, with the fibers or fibrous structures parallel to the base of the finished stone.

Some gem species known for this phenomenon include the aforementioned quartz, chrysoberyl, beryl (especially var. aquamarine), tourmaline, apatite, and scapolite.

Chatoyancy can also be used to refer to a similar effect in woodworking, where certain finishes will cause the wood grain to achieve a striking three-dimensional appearance.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Paean to The Long Grass Books no. 2: Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon

Bowing to the Moon /
Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon:
Women's Poems
from Tang China,
translated with notes
and introduction
by Jeanne Larsen


More to come

Court lady or courtesan, poor official's child or Lady of the Tao, the poets in this little book move inside and sometimes pass beyond "walls within walls within walls." Escaping, they find deep pleasure in nature; returning, they may have an instant of joy or teasing, though more often they pose in attitudes of loss, with happiness already gone by. The world is past or passing: the sea will turn to dust, the husband or lover wing to and perhaps fall on distant, war-tormented ground. "Winsome" girls shine and fade like flowers, and a moon-lit strand of white hair never renews its lustrous black.

The delicacy of these Chinese poems, the formalized and lovely attitudes and subjects--the loneliness of a girl, a woman with her looks disordered by grief, the cloud-and-rain of sex, the flight of seasons, the news of official promotion--are familiar but hold considerable power to allure. Some are surprising. A young man in scholar's robes reveals himself as an impossiblility, a woman who cannot marry an official's daughter without a (very unlikely!) metamorphosis. An elderly woman turns from the moon, remembering her own shining loveliness, when she lived in sensuous "deep red rooms."

Looking at the little Tang sculpture of a lady on horseback at upper left, I see so many elements of what must be a Tang aesthetic. The poems, too, are brightly pigmented, in love with a certain glaze of moonlight, and reveal clarity and charm and humor. Like the terra cotta statue, these poems show a care for images with graceful lines, color, and an imprint of status. The translations occasionally offer a Taoist or courtly phrase that catches me up, and I wonder whether these are the most difficult bits of all to render into English. It's a wonderful gift to have these lyrics--bright fragments of a lost world.

The sketches of figures behind the poems are often of people barely glimpsed, who have left little more than a name. Jeanne Larsen's thumbnail biographies often stand as poignant memorials. Read the poems of the Greenwall Pilgrimage by Praiseworthy Consort Xu, Queen Mother of Shu and her sister, the Exemplary Consort, and then turn to meet their biographies: "These poets came from an impoverished family of Chengdu. Known for their beauty and their poetry, they were taken as consorts by Wang Jian (847-918), the bandit-turned-general who emerges as military governor, and then independent ruler, of Shu (now western Sichuan) in the war-torn years surrounding the Tang empire's collapse. Wang's capital was a haven for literati and artists in that difficult era. When his son Yan ascended to the throne, both women were promoted to ranks suiting the mothers of princes and wielded considerable power. They--and Wang Yan--were killed after Shu's conquest by a short-lived dynasty called the Later Tang." The notes are full of miniature tales of women hemmed in by history and culture. Some were asked to take their own lives as widows or traitors, some were executed, some died of grief. One rose to transcendence and was spotted astride a purple cloud.

This slim house of poems--a monument to study and travel by Jeanne Larsen, back when she was a Comparative Literature graduate student and a poet, before she added professor and novelist to her life-list--opens many windows onto the daughters of Great Tang and the "Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms." Each of these poets is bound by her times, yet blossoms despite and because of her setting: "Wherever you walk, flowers / fallen--everywhere / . . . Look with joy on the blessed, / on this radiant age."


Willow Branches
by Zhou Dehua

Along one
bend of the river
Clear, a thousand
willow withies:
twenty years past,
on that old
plank bridge,
I parted from
my love. No word
from him, no
morning still
no news.

Springtime Views in the Land of Qin
by Yuan Chun

Lovely, these views of spring
from up in the Phoenix Tower:

guard posts at palace gates,
walls within walls within walls,

and in His Majesty's garden
trees in the falling rain--

or peaks of the seekers' range
after the skies turn clear.

Wherever you walk, flowers

and palpable, favorable airs,
drenched, when evening comes.

Look with joy on this blessed,
on this radiant age,

as skirts of rainbow silk
take the path of the Taoist Way.

Written at Goldflower-Palace Taoist Refuge
from The Greenwall Pilgrimage Sequence
by the Praiseworthy Consort Xu

Again we reach
Goldflower’s peak.

At Darkmystic City
we sought the Way, returned.

Clouds part:
the shape of things shows clear.

Blackness locks in:
towers, spires, come forth.

Rain washed and the hills
around shine clean.

Winds blow and the road
back home moves into view.

Hills like a green-flashed screen of feathers
channel surging streams.

What need to long for Penglai,
that far-off faerie isle?

Bibliography of Jeanne Larsen

Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women's Poems from Tang China
click here to see a sample, or buy a copy from BOA Editions, Ltd.
Manchu Palaces novel
Bronze Mirror novel
Silk Road novel
James Cook in Search of Terra Incognita poems
Brocade River Poems: Selected works of the Tang Dynasty Courtesan Xue Tao
translated poems
Engendering the Word (co-editor) critical essays

Links to poetry and prose on Jeanne Larsen's web site: Four Little Tales; from The Starry Messenger (a narrative sequence of poems); from 10,000 Bodhisattvas (a very different sequence); from Hell & Heaven at Tateyama (creative nonfiction)

Illustration: The Tang sculpture of a lady on horseback was collected . . . some time ago, but where? I'll have to see if I can find her again.

Comments from Jeanne Larsen

Some time ago, sculptor Chris Miller posted some Tang figures in rainbow glazes on his MountShang blog, and we recently talked about the poem with "rainbow silks." He asked a question that I sent on to Jeanne: "The Tower reminds me of the one built by the great genius-villain-warlord -- of 'Romance of Three Kingdoms' whose greatest ambition in life was to obtain the world's most beautiful woman and install her in a magnificent tower built to his specification. (story based on history of 2nd Century -- and fictionalized about 900 years later.) . . . I'm curious about how the translator came up with the last line "Take the path of the Taoist Way" (since "tao" means "way" -- as in "the way birds fly" -- the "way the seasons change" etc -- so I question where there would have been a specific reference to the cult of Taoism -- as this translation seems to imply.) "

Jeanne Larsen responded in an informal email with some interesting thoughts in reply. Here is part of what she had to say, with some light editing and cutting (at her request):

There are so many towers in poems in women's voices in China --a "tower" sometimes meaning simply a building with more than one story. So the word comes into Tang poems loaded with traces of beautiful and often, neglected, women from at-least-fairly affluent households. (See Yu Xuanji's beautiful "Another Poem on Riverside Willows Trees" or Guan Panpan's three on "Swallow Tower ".) The Romance of the 3 Kingdoms has been on my Must-Reread [in translation, let me add!] list for, um, several decades now--so thanks to yr sculptor friend for another nudge. Oddly, I've been thinking about it lately, but for its warrior-heroes, not women.

'Fraid I'm not going to be able to give a satisfactory explanation without the original text. But I can say that "the path of the Taoist Way" does attempt to catch the range of meanings of the Chinese word tao—to include "road/path", "a philosophical/religious system/perspective", “philosophical Taoism [Taojia]”, "the Tao [that un-namable source of the 10000 things] spoken of in the Tao te ching (AKA Daode jing)", "[so-called] Popular Taoism [Taojiao]”—i.e., much of Chinese 'folk religion', with imperial pantheon and assorted other goddesses and such, and assorted Taoist practices—fairly esoteric alchemical/dietary/sexual/breathing/visualization technologies for spiritual self-cultivation. Also, whatever other words/phrases might go on that list of English rough equivalents, though I'm not sure "way" in the sense of "manner” is quite within the range--more like "way" as in "way of life". (In Japanese it's sometimes pronounced "do" as in Akido (the Way of Harmonized Energies), Chado (the Way of Tea), Bushido (the samurai way) and suchlike.

“Path” catches a lot of it, especially if one includes new-age-y uses of that word, but surely not all. So my version offers 3 English words attempting to triangulate, and necessarily imperfectly, on 1 especially rich Chinese one. One of the many bits of clumsy galumphing that translators of poetry are regularly reduced to, and I galumph as much as any.

I wouldn't have included "Taoist" in the English if I hadn't been convinced that that was a grammatically & contextually legitimate reading of the original. Again as far as close-up grammar (Arugh! I'm beating my head against my desk...what IS the original wording?), I think it's there. Could get into it on word-by-word level next week if requested. As for context--well, the poet speaks from the social role of a woman who has taken Taoist orders (she’s a "Taoist nun") and as my brief note suggests, there's a subtle tone of sorrow and disillusionment throughout this poem that sets up a longing for something other than just a pretty poem about life locked up inside the harem walls. (See her bio note.) Could I have over-translated? Well, sure. But I think I’m not the only person who has read the poem w/ these overtones—again, I need my notes.

Yuan Chen's poem as I did read, still read, it isn't so much a reference to a "cult" as a sad awareness that transient beauties are not, ultimately, the means of lasting happiness, and that lives restricted by gender roles (however materially privileged) might include some yearning for spiritual fulfillment. Will the palace women inside the walls really go anywhere with that yearning? Dunno. As my note says, "Is this fact, or [the poet's? the palace women's?] wish, or some of each?" Love the ambiguity, however, the multiple possibilities--I'd rather the poem, instead of delivering a rant on patriarchal oppression or a sermon on the value of spiritual praxis, left us all scratching our heads, a little uncomfortable, wondering . . .

If you have a question for Jeanne Larsen, leave it in comments, and I'll see if we can turn up a reply.

She says that she'll "be glad to respond to others too."

And for Chris-the-sculptor: "I have a little replica of a Tang camel rearing its head back in my study—got it in Xian (the modern city built atop the Tang capital), natch. I liked the modern piece on the Mount Shang site quite a lot."

The Paean to The Long Grass Books no. 1 is here.


Friday, January 05, 2007

I Interview my Visitors, no. 1

My bonnet pic
just for fun

I Interview My Visitors, no. 1

One of the troublesome areas for a writer is an insatiable interest in people and their foibles, secret wishes, inner and outer selves, and so on. For me, one of the most entertaining parts of having a blog is those brief collisions with Persons Unknown that occur in the Comments. Often one has only a bare sense of who that person is—it might be someone out of the past, wearing a wig and moustachio, or someone who stumbled into the door by a wild series of accidents. Occasionally someone shows up and then returns who strikes me as a character beyond my own invention.

Such is Susanna Leberman, a.k.a. susangalique of Lacey's Spring, Alabama. She has a blog and writes impetuously and rather carelessly on it, and she cannot spell. Her typos and spelling innovations often seem to make a weird sense. Her attire and writing suggest that she should have lived in the Good Old Days Before Spelling Reform came in, and I suggest that her words be read in a pre-30's spirit by any neat and precise speller who happens by.

Susanna participates in strange Southern rites that I do not understand, even though I am a dyed-in-the-high-cotton Southerner and was destined to be so by my stubborn South Carolina and Georgia ancestors for about 300 years or thereabouts. She is terribly opinionated, loves history and her Mike, has gusto, and wears wonderfully outlandish hats.

The instructions to Susanna for this interview were: Please answer all just as you would write on your blog, without puzzling it over much or rooting through the dictionary for spellings, and send them back to me! It should be "you," not you gussied up.


Susanna, could you explain (without worrying about the spelling!) how you toppled or tumbled or deliberately came in at the e-door of The Palace at 2:00 a.m.?


Wow, I m honored that I would be the first to be interviewd, and just for you I will make this stream on conciousness with no spell check. I am writing it as a private post. I am hopping it wont be to rough because I have no excuses. I just got through walking around Target with a large latte and have not had a cocktail or a glass of wine.

how did I find your site. I was googling Howard Bahr to see if he had any new books out and your blog came up. You had been speakers together at a writing festival. I was drunk typing and contacted you. I had never contacted a random blog before and was estatic when you responded.

From comments, I know that Professor Cross introduced you to the books of his friend Howard Bahr. What did Randy Cross say about your spelling? (Sheerest curiosity at work.)

Well, he never said anything to me about it. He was really concerned about comma splices and that one I pretty much have under control. In class I always made a go of proof reading, but I was always slow and in a rush to finish tests and writing assignements. I am not sure what Dr. Cross thought about me. He thought I was very good and once I remember I was crying in his office over something, I think someone got mad at me about something and he told me that if someone knew me they would know I would never knowingly hurt anyone. I think I was outshined by my brilliant partner in crime Greg. We both had the hugest crush on him and got coaught looking through the backseat window of his car trying to see what music he was listening to and Dr. C walked up in his swarthy way and said, "Well Hello!" We wanted to die. But but but! The best Dr. Cross story occured the night my car was stolen. We were performing in 1700s costume and ran down the street in the rain to his house because we were in the historical district and didnt have phone or money. We couldnt have planned it better if we tried. He did make sure I would say Lacey's Spring instead of Lacey Springs.

the night my car got stolen and we got to see into Dr. Crosses house. This was what I looked like. I thought I was ugly and never realized how beautiful I was. Its strange too look back

You are a devotee of strange rites. Could you kindly explain what Eastern Star is, and why you find it so attractive?

Well, lets see. Its something you have to grow up in. I became a rainbow girl when I was 11. We got to wear ball gowns and memorize beautiful speaches about girlhood. It is a service organization set up by the masons for the girls of masonic families. The eastern star is the adult counter part of Rainbow. They are also a service organization where you get to wear sequins and be intoduced to other Eastern Stars. Buisness meetings are structuered around speaches about the different phases of womanhood represented by bible heroins. The speaches are called the ritualistic work and I always took to it. I am the product of an Episcopallian father and a southern baptist mother. My father left the episcopalion church and I was denied all the ritual pomp that inner self loves. I first realised how fabulous religious ritual was when I went to a catholic wedding when I was a child. I enjoy the phraternal fellowship of other women, and I feel that I am covered by a protective umbrella of the masonic family. I stood at an alter and took an obligation, and so did they. I feel like if I was in great need a mason or someone in the masonic family would be bound by the same obligation to protect me and I find that in some way to be comforting.

On the war to an Eastern Star meeting

What is the difference between women who wear outlandish hats and women who will not wear hats at all? Did you, in fact, wear a red velvet hat with burning candles? If not, what is the most radical hat you have worn?

Well, I think the real distinction is those that wear hats to be obnocious (like the red hat society) and those that wear hats for purpose. All my hats have purpose. Thats why I actually wear them out and about.

I have worn costumy hats at the musem I worked at, but the hats I have for real that I wear were easter hats with white feathery plooms, winter hats for warmth, cowboy hats for wearing on the tractor (because we do have a large family farm of my mothers people where we grow hay about 10 miles from our house on the edge of Huntsville). Often I wear whats called a mop cap under my working hats. This is something I learned at the museum to protect the delicate skin on your brow/forhead, so its almost always goes aong with straw hats.

I fear I am going on and on, but I seldom get the chance to actually talk about this shit and the fact that it is thought out, which makes it all the funnier I guess.

I have a two baseball caps that wear to make me feel tough, one that stole from my brother that is black and has the emblum of the sun on the forhead. Its a dominican cigar hat, but it makes me feel like Lara on Dark Shadows who is a powerful phoenix and she destroys anyone who gets in her way. The opther is a pink Dixie Girl hat with a strong bill. My most outlandish hat is a 200 dollar hat that was hand died, hand made by a Huntsville milliner. I like it because the brim is so wide and protective that I can controll who gets to see my face and who doesnt.

I feel like the stupidist person in my department and its a constant struggle of telling myself that I desrveto be there, that I desrve to have the means to support my family just like anybody else there the end of the school year I always have to suck it up and go in for some sort of meeting and have just scrapped by. By August it is miserably hot and sunny in Alabama and I have very white skin. I burn easily and have no desire to tan. I grew up hearing about how my Gran always took care to cover up the face even in short exposure to keep it nice and she looked fabulous till the day she died, so I wear these hats. I have worn the wide brimmed hats to meeting that I thought would be important or embarrasing and I do not remove it because when a hat is part of an outfit a woman is not expected to remove it. SO in the meetingswith a careful tilt of the head they dont get to see anything but my lips and when I am ready they can see my eyes. I think its sad that todays woman has lost the power and pleasure of the lead curl and the wide brimmed hat.

Aside from your own interesting presence, is there any reason to visit the crossroads, hamlet, town, or small city (which?) of Lacey's Spring, Alabama?

Well, I dont know. Lacey is about 5 min outside Huntsville where NASA and Redstone aresenal is so there interesting loners that live in Lacey. We are on the Tennessee river and there are alwyas things to see on the river bank. We always liked this one place that we would read poetry at called the bluff, but it was the bottom of a bluff intsead of the top. Its a hard to reach place but beautiful and magical. We have a great Christmas tree farm in Lacey and there are really weird homesteads and family compounds. There might be a million dollar mansion next to family shanty compound and trailers. We have a complex network of river beads and mountain streams that you can go hunting for arrowheads. Laceys Spring is a nice place to live because its cheap and makes a great home base. There are a wide varitey of people that live here. It is close to several different citys that offer different things and there are always great yard sales and good eating.

on the waterfront: out and about in Lacey's Spring

You appear to be an extremely lively and passionate young woman, possibly a bit tempestuous. How do you think that your husband would describe you and your interests to a stranger--in order to keep a bit of reticence, let's say to an amusing elderly lady of 77, a grand high potentate (surely there is such a thing!) of Eastern Star?

He would say that was the singest little thing you ever saw and I had an amazing memory for movies and literature. He would say I liked him. I think he would say something about my ability to befrind people and accept people for who they were and not expect anything. He would tell them about my blog and "my readers." He told someone in Detroit how this famous author reads my journal to see my spelling errors and he would say I was special and that he never met anyone like me. He had to drink and drug himself into the ground before becomming powerless and nonjudgemental. He finds my acceptance of others amazing. He was the first man to be in the womens studies program at University of Alabama in Huntsvile.

When asked about our age difference, I would say that I was an old soul and he was a young soul. We found each other across time and space :o)

me and Mike: looks a little bit like an album cover from the 1970s

Happy New Year!

my new years eve pic. I call it blowing out the candles


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Let Us Now Praise Men Who Cook: the annual New Year's Eve dinner + stray book notes

Please skip down to a small appreciation of Clare Dudman's 98 Reasons for Being. I don't want it to be lost too soon, as this is a special book, just out in the U. S., and not to be overlooked. Oh, and I should've said that visitors could leave a question for her! That's too bad, not to think of it at the time, but one could still leave a query either here or there.


New book-and-mag news in the final Phoenix of the year, just below 98 Reasons.


Tomorrow or the next day: first in a series, I Interview My Visitors. It would be fun to interview the passers-by who never leave a note--or to have a list of who and what they are--but this one promises to be amusing and interesting and very Southern.


The second "Long Grass" book will be Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon.


Addendum: January 3rd marks my first sale of the year: a story, Prolegomenon to The Adventures of Childe Phoenix, to Gavin Grant and Kelly Link's Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet at Small Beer Press. Those two titles deserve each other, don't they?

Addendum no. 2: This morning I was sent this warning about libraries. Didn’t librarians once steer children and adults toward the best in books? My mother was a librarian who had me reading classics and researched new books and writers. Librarians "ought to regard themselves as not just experts in the arcane ways of the Dewey Decimal System, but as teachers, advisers and guardians of an intellectual inheritance. The alternative is for them to morph into clerks who fill their shelves with whatever their "customers" want, much as stock boys at grocery stores do."

Addenda, addenda, good and ill . . .


This year Mike's annual New Year’s Eve dinner-till-midnight had a little less of the performance about it than last year's Delhi-narrative meal, but was quite good. Some day I'll have to gather all his menus together . . . I was remembering some delicious tiny soufflés baked in oyster shells from 2004, but I can't remember the rest of the menu.

tampenade with homemade bread

bruschetta di pomodoro

shrimp and scallops with tarragon cream over puff pastry shells

orange, avocado, and pomegranate salad
serrano pepper dressing

pheasant marsala with parmesan couscous

homemade chocolate truffles
(almond, walnut, cocoa, or cayenne infused)
start and finish with Taittinger's Brut La Francaise
fish through main with Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé

At midnight, we all wandered down to the lakefront park to watch the fireworks: some lovely low-to-the-ground vases of bright twigs and buzzing bees, and a satisfying weeping willow. It felt strange to see them reflected in open water, instead of shimmering on ice and snow. On the way back, the ducks and geese were chattering and scolding near the shore. We always end up with tea--not being coffee drinkers, and knowing nothing about the stuff--and we saw guests off before 2:00 a. m. and tumbled into bed.
The pheasant was fresh, shot and cleaned by Himself, the king of hobbyists. For fun, he makes entirely hand-stitched quilts, repairs antique toys, hunts, writes, bakes, cooks, and generally has a fine old time. Every year brings an entertaining new hobby. Some go away; some stay forever. The hunting is, of course, not p. c.--he may cook, but he's no namby-pamby! Last year he bagged antelope (herbal-tasting), rabbit (I always think of Godard's Weekend), pheasant, grouse, ducks, and geese. It's like having a cat who is a mighty hunter, for one never knows what might materialize on the doorstep.
Laura Murphy Frankstone's Fearrington tree-with-orbs, drawn with a brush pen, is courtesy of Laurelines.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Paean to the Long Grass Books no. 1: 98 Reasons for Being + blogging vows for New Year's Day








Paean to the Long Grass Books, no. 1

In 2007, I'm going to write more about books that ought to be more visible than they are--books by writers who work in the shade of the mid-list. It can be hard for readers to find those books when they are left scattered in the long grass, seldom seen.

My first choice is by Clare Dudman; the Penguin edition of 98 Reasons for Being came out in late 2006. (My second will be Jeanne Larsen's translation of Tang poets--consorts and court women, courtesans, ladies of the Tao. Both small poetry collections and literature in translation tend to be found in the long grass.)

* * *

Reasons for Reading / 98 Reasons for Being

He keeps me from my other place. It is as though he is holding my hand, and even though I twist and pull he holds me fast with his secrets and the things he should not be telling: a wicked child he cannot own; a wife who lashes him with her clever tongue; a household that has him by the neck and is squeezing tight. I listen. I need to hear the end. He relaxes his grip. He takes another breath.

The changing bond between Dr. Hoffmann (a character based on the historical German physician and author of, among other things, children's books) and his young Jewish patient, Hannah Meyer, is the spine of Clare Dudman’s 98 Reasons for Being. In the quote above, one sees how this essentially simple structure—Hannah’s illness and healing—becomes complex. The rift inside Hannah is filled with grief and dream-memories of the past. One element that helps to lead her out of the dark place between trees is showing those memories to the light; another is the power of story. Hoffmann, the storyteller of a volume of fairy-tale-cruel cautionary poems called Struwwelpeter, has secret stories of his own. They burden him; they prick now and then in his too-busy day. As he shares them, revealing his own dark corners, the desire to know what happens next and to be a part of the larger human story begins to tug at Hannah Meyer.

The pace of this book is not rapid; it is slow work, coaxing Hannah Meyer from her dark wood. But it is the natural pace for a story about this young woman and her doctor, one that also allows her to be seen as a part of the microcosm that is a nineteenth-century city asylum. The others in his asylum all need "a reason for being," as Hannah does.

Hannah is the means by which all patients are given the full glory of an individual self. Through her, Hoffman sees that his many patients and those around him partake of both "wellness" and "illness"--that the world is a place of brokenness. In glimpses, he understands that his own family and his own heart are places where what he calls “madness” has bedded down. As the Cheshire Cat said so well (and it was marvelous and mad for a cat to say so at all), “I’m mad. You’re mad. We’re all mad.” Disturbance of mind is a crooked thread that wanders through the beautiful and the ugly, the anorexic and the obsessive: through a whole pageant of asylum patients and their flawed and yearning tenders. In this book, Clare Dudman is, as Bloom said of Shakespeare, myriad-minded, and she draws her myriad with vividness and verve. One of my favorite things about her characters is that they do not appear to be contemporary people in fancy dress--a mode of historical fiction that has been popular with the bestseller list but is blessedly absent here.

Tensions press on the book. Clare Dudman enters the past as a place—my favorite sort of historical book—but we cannot help but set that past against our own, cannot help but let a current diagnosis flit through our minds from time to time. The child who would be “classified” at school, the anorexic, the gay man, the obsessive: these and more exist in our minds in double ways, as Hoffmann attempts to understand them, as mad-minders and Hannah and more see them, and as we bring to bear the culture and understandings of our own also-limited time. A strong alternation between the idea of “person” and the idea of “case” lends another doubling of vision. These doublings and alternations work as large structures and as small ones--so that, say, Josef is climbing his tree while Hoffmann is unaware, sinking into a mental lagoon of shade and quiet.

Tensions, large and small, support the alternation of feelings in the book—one of its strongest gifts to its readers. The world of the asylum demands that one eat grief, guilt, and unhappiness. Go there and you will know these, as well as the leaven of love and joy.

One note: it is vital to read this book without attempting to impose one’s idea of a typical “novel” on it. The book contains a wonderful mix of main story, multiple minor characters, faux erudition or mock-period letters that begin many chapters, along with interpolation of poems from Struwwelpeter. (Clearly the poems inspired certain moments and anecdotes in the larger story, as when an intensely unhappy maid burns herself to death, setting flowers of fire around the room.) I can’t help but think of Northrop Frye’s discussion of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and his critical category of “anatomy,” with his admonition that one must be careful not to dismiss romances, confessions, and anatomies because they do not “fit” one’s mental categories of genre.

Did I say that the book is beautiful?

It is beautiful.


. . .

Buy this book, dear reader please*

Or we'll come and crack your knees,

Bite your ears and pull your socks,

Pelt your head and give you knocks.

. . .

* No kidding, buy the book: You might make little difference to a bestseller, but when you buy a book from a mid-list writer, you are setting down a vote of confidence and interest that will matter to the publisher.

P. S. I suppose that, not being a proper reviewer in this context, I don't have to be entirely proper. But I'll be proper anyway and say that I 'know' Clare via her blog, The Keeper of the Snails, and email. Since I was drawn to her because of books, I would say that the link is a recommendation rather than a disqualification. You can say what you like, of course: go to!

Illustrations include illustrations from Dr. Hoffman’s Struwwelpeter and one of the cover illustrations for 98 Reasons for Being.

Blogging resolutions for 2007

1. Talk about invisible or semi-invisible books that are worth the “seeing.” (See the start, above.)

2. Learn to post with haste.

3. Discuss or interview some younger writers who are scrambling up toward book publication.

4. Interview a few of the more curious people who pop up on the blog…